Creative Careers | How, Why, and When to Negotiate Salary

Creative Careers | How, Why, and When to Negotiate Salary

A salary negotiation is one step toward you understanding your value.

Whether you are an entry-level employee or a seasoned arts professional, learning how to negotiate your salary is a necessary skill to both increase your long-term earning potential and advocate for advancements in your career. Employee raises, in most cases, are based on your current salary, so it is well worth it over time to negotiate your initial offer as well as subsequent increases. Successful salary negotiations for new hires and current employees in the arts and culture sector include three factors: (1) timing, (2) research, and (3) a confident ask.

The Timing

If you are a new hire to an organization, you should negotiate when or soon after you receive an official job offer. You might be asked about your expected salary and/or salary history* prior to an offer, and if possible, ask the employer what the salary range for the position is before disclosing this information. If this is not possible, respond in a general way by stating an expected salary range that is on par with industry standards (more on this below), and explain that you’ll need to understand the full compensation package with benefits before making a decision.

If you are currently working, there are several reasons why it might be time to ask for a raise, including receiving a promotion and/or taking on additional responsibilities, achieving key accomplishments, or being in your job for a significant period of time, generally a year, with positive feedback and without a salary increase. Performance reviews are natural times to discuss compensation, but if this isn’t a possibility, schedule a separate meeting to discuss your position (and salary). Prepare in advance. Use your intuition in terms of timing; less ideal times to negotiate salary, for example, are when budget cuts or layoffs are announced, when you have recently received critical feedback, peak busy times in the office, or generally, when your supervisor is in an off mood.

*At the time of this article’s publication, over 30 US cities and/or states, including New York State, have passed provisions limiting the use of salary history in the hiring process to varying degrees. With this said, applicants and employees may voluntarily and without prompting disclose or verify their salary history, including for the purpose of negotiating wages or salary.

The Research

Prepare for a salary discussion by doing research into average compensation for someone with your title and experience in your geographic location, your industry, and if possible, your specific organization. Below are several resources, including arts-specific ones, to help you.

  • The organization’s Form 990 (required by all nonprofits), which you can look up for free on Guidestar. This will list the compensation for top-earning employees.
  • Salary surveys, including American Alliance of Museums 2017 National Museum Salary Survey, Americans for the Arts Local Arts Agency Salaries 2018, Association of Art Museum Directors 2019 Salary Survey, Professionals for Nonprofits Annual Salary Reports, and Theatre Communications Group annual Salary Survey (restricted to members).
  • Look for similar positions on online job boards, including NYFA Classifieds. Many job listings will not list salary, but there is generally enough that do for you to get a sense of the range for the position.
  • For internal hires, organizational salary bands may be in your employee handbook, or you can ask your Human Resources (HR) department or Finance Manager for them.
  • For college or university positions, academic or administrative, salary ranges are often public information. You can find the salary code in the job listing that correlates to a salary band guide in the HR section of the university’s website.

Once you understand the salary range for your position, determine a target number that you’ll accept. This is, of course, personal and based on your cost of living and how long you expect to stay in that position. Accepting a lower figure may seem tempting if you want to get your foot in the door. Although this strategy could work, you should consider that on average people stay at their jobs for four years, which is a long time to feel dissatisfied with your pay.

The Ask (with Confidence!)

You’ve done your research, you know the appropriate range for your position, you have a target number in mind, and the timing is right. What’s left? The ask!

Step 1. Stay calm and remember the odds are in your favor. If you are a new hire, your potential employer has already significantly narrowed down the pool of applicants (potentially to just one – you!), and they don’t want to lose you and start over. If this is an internal salary negotiation, employers are well aware that staff retention is almost always more cost effective than having to rehire your position.

Step 2. Be confident, warm, and respectful. You’re a professional and the tone you set will demonstrate to them (or remind them, if you’re a current employee), that you’re a great candidate.

Step 3. You’ve been offered a number, now ask additional questions. You want to understand the full compensation package and how other factors might help bring you to your target number. This includes health insurance (how much, if any, the employer pays of your premiums and how quickly your policies will take affect), vacation days, transit reimbursement, etc.

Step 4. Ask! Thank them and express your enthusiasm for the role or responsibilities, and say something along the lines of, “Based on my XX years of experience doing XX, and the industry average for this position, I would feel more comfortable with a salary in the range of XX.” This range should be more than your target number. While you should consider your personal finances (your rent, school loans, etc.) in determining your target number, it is not appropriate to bring them up here. This is, however, the time to negotiate the position title, work schedule, and responsibilities, if those are applicable.

Step 5. There will most likely be what will feel like an uncomfortable silence as they consider what you said. This pause will not be as long as you will think it is. Wait it out.

From there, a few things could happen. They might accept your offer (great!), or more likely, they might need to get back to you. In most cases, they will try and meet you somewhere in the middle (this is why you ask for more than your target). Depending on the tenor of the conversation and how close this second offer is to your target, you could ask for a signing bonus or some other form of compensation, such as having your health benefits kick in earlier than anticipated. At the same time, if it’s clear that this second offer is the best they can do, and it’s within the range of your target, you should graciously accept.

In some instances, your potential or current employer may not be willing or able to negotiate beyond their initial offer. Based on your cost of living, where you are in your job search or career, and your excitement for the role, you might want to accept. In the extremely rare instance that they respond to your otherwise professional request in a particularly negative or dismissive way, step back and consider how much they value their employees and your potential for future growth there.

Regardless of the outcome, it is important to research the market value of your position and your experience, and speak up for what you want and need to thrive in your role. As you grow in your creative career, there will be many opportunities for you to use your negotiation skills to advocate for change – for your future staff, for the communities you care about, and for the strength of a vibrant arts sector. A salary negotiation is one step toward you understanding your own value, how to advocate for yourself, and in turn, how to advocate for others.

– Maria Villafranca, NYFA Consultant and NYFA Coach

Interested in more arts career-related content? Register today to join our February 18 online workshop “How to Find and Land Your Dream Job in the Arts!” Presenter Maria Villafranca will help you define your career path, find opportunities, and walk you through all stages of a job search. 

You can find more articles on arts career topics by visiting the Business of Art section of NYFA’s website. Sign up for NYFA News and receive artist resources and upcoming events straight to your inbox.

Image: Justin Brice Guariglia (Finalist in Architecture/Environmental Structures/Design ’19), REDUCE SPEED NOW!, 2019, Somerset House, London, UK

Amy Aronoff
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